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The Curse of Billy Penn was an alleged curse used to explain the failure of professional sports teams based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to win championships since the March 1987 construction of the One Liberty Placemarker skyscraper, which exceeded the height of William Penn's statue atop Philadelphia City Hallmarker.

The curse apparently ended on October 29, 2008, when the Philadelphia Phillies won the 2008 World Series, a year and four months after a statuette of the William Penn figure atop City Hall was affixed to the final beam during the June 2007 topping-off of the Comcast Centermarker, currently the tallest building in the city.

The curse had gained such prominence in Philadelphia that a documentary film entitled The Curse of William Penn was produced about it.

Origins of the curse

Atop Philadelphia City Hallmarker stands a statue of William Penn, the city founder and original proprietor of the then-British colony of Pennsylvaniamarker (meaning "Penn's Woods"). For many decades, a "gentlemen's agreement" stated that the Philadelphia Art Commission would approve no building in the city which would rise above this statue. This ended in March 1987, when a modern steel-and-glass skyscraper, One Liberty Placemarker, opened three blocks away. One Liberty Place is taller than City Hall by 397 feet (121 m), rising 945 feet (288 m) in height compared to the height of Penn's hat on city hall, 547 feet (167 m). The measurement of the height of City Hall is usually rounded to , which matches the career number of home runs hit by Phillies Hall of Famemarker third baseman Mike Schmidt. Its sister skyscraper, Two Liberty Placemarker, at 848 ft (258 m), soon followed.

Philadelphia sports teams had enjoyed a run of success. Major League Baseball's Philadelphia Phillies won the 1980 World Series and the 1983 National League pennant; the National Hockey League's Philadelphia Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, and were a regular presence in the finals (1976, 1980, 1985, and 1987); the National Football League's Philadelphia Eagles appeared in Super Bowl XV, losing to the Oakland Raiders; and the National Basketball Association's Philadelphia 76ers won the championship in 1983, as well as making the finals in 1977, 1980, and 1982. Before 1980, the Phillies had appeared in only two other World Series, in 1915 and 1950, and the Eagles had won no NFC conference championships since the 1966 agreement that had created the Super Bowl, while the 76ers won NBA titles in both Philadelphia and in their previous incarnation, the Syracuse Nationalsmarker. Construction on One Liberty Place began in 1985, two years after the last championship season in Philadelphia.

Unlike other "curses" that seem to strike particular teams, such as the Boston Red Sox's Curse of the Bambino, the Chicago White Sox's Curse of the Black Sox (both of which seem to have been lifted), the Detroit Lions' Curse of Bobby Layne and the Chicago Cubs' Curse of the Billy Goat, this curse, as well as the Curse of the Inauguration, have said to have struck four professional teams in the same city and is sometimes extended to include other sports.

Philadelphia sports since the curse's inception

Major-league sports

After One Liberty Place opened, Philadelphia's franchises began a pattern of narrow but spectacular failures to win a conference or national championship. The Flyers lost the Stanley Cup Finals twice; (1987β€”in seven games to the Edmonton Oilers, two months after One Liberty Place opened (though they were considered the underdogs and fought back from a 3-1 series deficit, not wanting to go through what happened two years before when they were down 3-1), and again in 1997 in a four-game sweep by the Detroit Red Wings (that year the Flyers were a heavy favorite over the Red Wings). The Phillies lost the 1993 World Series in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays, with the Series ending on Joe Carter's walkoff 3-run home run. The 76ers lost the 2001 NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. The Eagles lost three straight NFC Championship games from the 2001 through 2003 seasons, before finally breaking through after the 2004 season and reaching Super Bowl XXXIX, only to lose to the New England Patriots by three points. However, the losses in 1993, 1997, 2001, and 2005 had also been attributed to "Curse of the Inauguration."

In addition, losses in semifinal rounds had occurred eight times since the opening of One Liberty Place, including five by the Flyers, in 1989, 1995, 2000, 2004 and 2008. The 2000 team was one win away from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, after leading the New Jersey Devils 3-1 before losing three straight, the 2004 team lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the 2008 team lost to their cross-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins in five games. The Eagles accounted for the other three conference-final losses; they lost the NFC Championship Game (the winner of which meets the winner of the AFC's corresponding game in the Super Bowl) three years in a row from 2001 to 2003, thus becoming the first NFL team to do this in either conference since the Dallas Cowboys of 1980–1982, losing the last two at home after posting the best record in the NFC. No other team in NFL history had lost back-to-back conference title games at home since the NFL began its practice in 1975 of awarding home-field advantage in postseason play based on regular-season record.

Some believe the curse manifested again on December 19, 2004. The Eagles clinched home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs, but wide receiver Terrell Owens suffered a fractured fibula and severe ankle sprain, which was expected to end his season. Even so, the Eagles won the NFC Championship Game 27-10 over the Atlanta Falcons, breaking their triple NFC Championship losing streak. However, the Eagles lost 24-21 to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX on February 6, 2005, despite Owens's return against medical advice. Donovan McNabb threw three interceptions after having had only eight in the entire regular season, and was speculated to be sick with the flu, even to the point that McNabb allegedly vomited during the Eagles' final offensive run.

Other sports

The curse was sometimes also extended to include Bensalem-Townshipmarker-based thoroughbred racehorse Smarty Jones, who saw his bid for horse racing's Triple Crown disappear when he finished second by one length in the 2004 Belmont Stakes after decisive victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Although the curse was not generally thought of as extending to college sports, two Philadelphia-based college basketball teams, the St. Joseph's Hawksmarker and the Villanova Wildcatsmarker, which had very successful seasons in 2004 and 2006 respectively, failed to reach the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Both were eliminated in the fourth-round Elite Eight matches, with St. Joe's, first seed in the East Regional, losing in a close match to Oklahoma Statemarker, and Villanova, first seed in the Minneapolis Regional, falling to eventual NCAA-champion Floridamarker. Villanova won the national championship in 1985, two years before the Liberty Place opening, but has not since. A third Philadelphia team, the Temple Owlsmarker, also failed to reach the Final Four five times due to losses in the fourth round (1988, 1991, 1993, 1999, 2001).

The curse, however, did not seem to affect professional teams outside of the "big four" sports; in fact, professional Lacrosse teams have had tremendous success. The Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League (indoor winter league) have won six titles since 1989, and the Philadelphia Barrage of the Major League Lacrosse (outdoor summer league) have won three championships (2004, 2006, and 2007). Additionally, the Philadelphia KiXX of the Major Indoor Soccer League won their league's championship in 2002 and 2007. It did not seem to damage the performance of Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul either, despite several lackluster seasons. In 2008, they won ArenaBowl XXII, clinching their first Arena League title. The Philadelphia Freedoms, a tennis team in the World Team Tennis League, are also exempt from the curse, having won titles in 2001 and 2006.

The curse also did not seem to affect Philadelphia's minor-league hockey franchise, the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms, who won the Calder Cup championship trophy twice since the curse's inception, in both 1998 and 2005 (the latter championship occurring during the NHL Lockout effectively making them the top North American professional hockey team).

The Curse lifted

On June 18, 2007, ironworkers from Local Union 401 helped raise the final beam in the construction of the Comcast Center at 17th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard in downtown Philadelphia. The Comcast Center is currently the tallest building in the city at 975 ft (297.2 m). In an attempt to end the curse, workers John Joyce and Dan Ginion attached a small figurine of William Penn to the beam, along with the traditional American flag and small evergreen tree.

After the first William Penn figurine was stolen, it was replaced with a smaller 4 inch figure.

The Phillies win

On October 29, 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won the 2008 World Series in five games against the Tampa Bay Rays. There were fears that Billy Penn had taken his final revenge on October 27, when the fifth game was suspended in the sixth inning due to a rain delay with the game tied at 2–2, and the Phillies leading series 3-1. However, the game resumed 46 hours later on October 29, when the Phillies rebounded with a 4-3 win. With this victory, the curse seems to have been lifted. A parade through Philadelphia on October 31, 2008 celebrated the victory; it was the first ticker-tape parade down Broad Street in Philadelphia since 1983.


In spite of the curse, when Philadelphia sports teams have reached their league's finals, Penn's statue has often been decorated to support that team's success. For example, after the Phillies won the 1993 National League pennant, Penn was fitted with an oversized red Phillies baseball cap; when the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup finals in 1997, the city adorned Penn with an orange-torso-with-white-shoulders Flyers jersey (at the time, the combination was the Flyers' road jersey).

When the Sixers faced the Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals Billy Penn was not decorated. Pat Croce, Philadelphia celebrity and part-owner of the Sixers, said he would have "decked out" the statue had the Sixers won but not before. Billy Penn was also left untouched when the Eagles went to Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005.

While several other skyscrapers have been erected since Liberty Place, it should be noted that Penn's statue faces northeast. As local sentiment goes, Penn may not be pleased, but at least his view of the Delaware River remains unobstructed. In 2007, construction was finished on Philadelphia's current tallest edifice, the Comcast Centermarker office building, located two blocks west of City Hall.

Currently, there are plans for a new 1,500 ft. tall skyscraper, the American Commerce Center, that will be located adjacent to the Comcast Center and will be 500 ft. taller than the Comcast Center when completed in 2012.

Since the 76ers loss in the 1977 NBA Finals, losses by Philadelphia sports teams in their league's finals during a presidential inaugural year have also been attributed to what John Smallwood of The Philadelphia Daily News called the "Curse of the Inauguration." With the Phillies losing the 2009 World Series, the alleged curse is alive and well, as each of the four Philadelphia teams have now lost championships during such years twice since 1977.

See also

Notes and References

  1. The Curse of Billy Penn, ABC Radio National, April 18, 2008
  2. The Phillies had their own separate run of bad luck before 1980. Until then they had been the only one of the sixteen original Major League Baseball teams formed from the 1900 National League contraction and subsequent American League foundation to have never won a World Series (the St. Louis Browns had won in 1966 and 1970 as the Baltimore Orioles). This, however, appears never to have been publicly identified as any curse, and no curse-related theories were offered, as their futility was largely attributed to bad players and incompetent management. On July 15, 2007, the Phillies became the first team in the history of professional sports to amass 10,000 losses.

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